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Spain’s deputy PM runs for prime minister to unite leftists

Spain’s deputy prime minister Yolanda Díaz has launched a bid to boost the left’s chances of holding on to power this year, announcing her own candidacy for the country’s top political job in an effort to repair the battered image of hardliners in the coalition government.

Although pollsters say Díaz has little prospect of winning in a general election in December, her move could be pivotal for Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez. He is trailing in the polls and needs Díaz to unify a number of parties to his left — including fractious coalition partner Podemos — to maximise the parliamentary strength of a potential new alliance.

Díaz, one of Spain’s three deputy premiers and its most popular politician according to some polls, on Sunday confirmed her intention to run for office under the banner of the Sumar movement, whose name means “add up”, which she founded last year.

“I want to be the first female prime minister of Spain. Because it is women’s time,” Díaz said. “Women belong to no one. And I, a woman, don’t belong to anyone either.” Allies say Diaz’s move is aimed at bringing together 15 quarrelsome leftwing parties and re-energising voters who are disillusioned with politicians.

But if it does not succeed it could help the conservative People’s Party, the main opposition, by splitting leftist votes between the Socialists, Sumar and Podemos — a radical group that has fostered division in the governing coalition and is equivocating over whether to join Sumar.

Díaz, who has focused on issues of economic wellbeing in government, said she wanted to do “useful politics” that “changes people’s lives”. Implicit in the statement was a contrast with Podemos, which has become associated with militancy and culture wars.

Born close to a shipyard in Galicia, northwestern Spain, and the daughter of a trade union leader, Díaz is a member of the communist party who became a labour lawyer before entering politics.

In charge of Spain’s labour ministry since 2020, she played a leading role in some of the coalition’s successes, including a rise in the minimum wage and a labour market reform that put more people on permanent rather than precarious short-term contracts.

On the campaign trail, critics say her political style can be corny and sentimental. But Alicia Gil-Torres, a political consultant and professor at the University of Valladolid, said Diaz’s mastery of her brief was impressive: “When she takes on her opponents in Congress, people see a woman who knows how to hold a political debate, who backs herself up with data.”

Díaz’s initiative marks a new phase in the fragmentation of European politics, where the rise of populists on the left and right has demolished entrenched two-party systems since the 2008 global financial crisis.

But her campaign launch was marred by the latest episode of leftwing infighting as Podemos’s leadership refused to attend owing to a spat over arrangements for primary elections this year — a proxy issue for deeper disagreements between the party and Sumar.

Podemos, founded in 2014, was the first party to overturn a four-decade political duopoly of the Socialists and the PP. Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’s co-founder, was its first deputy prime minister and he anointed Díaz, a close friend, to replace him when he quit in 2021. To some in Podemos, Díaz is now the enemy.

“It could be that Podemos is in decline,” said Máriam Martínez-Bascuñán, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid. “Or it could be that for Sumar to succeed it has to kill Podemos.”

Podemos secretary-general Ione Belarra acknowledged on Saturday that some leftwingers thought her party should now play a “secondary role”. But she said her party’s strength was “absolutely essential” to a new post-election coalition.

In government, Podemos ministers have focused on contentious social issues, such as the passage of a law allowing anyone over 16 to change their legally registered gender, and a new animal welfare regime. “Podemos has become self-absorbed and isolated,” said Martínez-Bascuñán.

The party’s signature achievement should have been a sexual consent law that sought to stop assault victims from being pressed in court over questions of consent. But owing to oversights in the redefinition of offences it resulted in hundreds of convicted sex offenders having their prison sentences cut. It was eventually fixed despite Podemos’s objections.

If Díaz cannot win over Podemos and it puts forward its own electoral candidates, the fracture could demotivate leftwing voters, analysts said.

But should Díaz succeed in uniting the hard left, she is also capable of reaching more moderate voters who have soured on the prime minister. Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, a PP lawmaker, said: “If she manages to mobilise the people Sánchez cannot mobilise, that does not suit the PP.”

Source: ft